As Disrupting Japan blog author Tim Romero has outlined: “The startup scene in Japan is laying the seeds for [the country’s] next economic miracle.” And a part of that miracle may very well be Tokyo-based legal startups. Few would know more about this subject than Dublin-based lawyer Naoise Gaffney. Gaffney is Co-Founder of Start-Ed, a network of award-winning startup legal advisory clinics in cities around the world, including Tokyo. Asia Law Portal had the opportunity to interview Gaffney via email about the Tokyo startup scene in general, and where legal startups fit into that ecosystem. Here’s the transcript of that interview:
What is StartEd?
StartEd runs free open-to-the-public events where entrepreneurs can get start-up-related legal advice from experienced advisers. Law students sit in on the conversation to see the law being applied in the real world and to get real-world commercial skills. Now comprehensively integrated into the startup communities in Dublin, London, Tokyo and New York, Start-Ed has received a number of awards and recognitions.
What is StartEd doing in Tokyo in particular?
Wherever we run StartEd, we look to get heavily involved with the local startup ecosystem. Tokyo is a particularly interesting proposition because there appear to be two semi independent startup movements: amongst the native Japanese, and amongst the “international set”. We initially targeted the expat startup circles in Tokyo via our portal on meetup.com (which seems to be a widely used resource amongst foreigners in Japan), but now we are looking to build awareness of and support for StartEd amongst native Japanese entrepreneurs.
What are the prospects for legal startups in Japan?
I think that there are some interesting opportunities, as reflected by the fact that we are currently starting to see a bit of innovation creeping into the Japanese legal system. Some of the more successful startup-friendly Silicon Valley law firms appear to be focusing their attention on Tokyo now because they believe there is a demand for their services and the way they package them. In my own area of legal specialty, IP, Japan has always been a powerhouse, but it has only been in recent years that we have seen the titans of Japanese industry, with their mammoth patent back catalogs, exploring new ways in which value can be extracted from these portfolios. Wherever there is such change, there is opportunity.
What inspired you to become active in legal startups?
I’m a patent attorney, so I always work at the point where law, business and technology meet. I find it very interesting working with people developing new technologies, and there is a fantastic dynamism and energy about the startup scene that you don’t get anywhere else. I also enjoy lecturing. While my cofounder and I both hold down day jobs, StartEd allows us to pursue all of these interests: working with startups, dealing with new technologies, and teaching. While we run it primarily in pursuit of our passion, not profit, it has rapidly grown to the point that we’ve had to shift up a gear. To that end, we are currently working to formalize partnerships with organizations that have an interest in reaching our international communities of startups and law students – law firms, technology and b2b corporates and universities.
What advice would you give aspiring legal startup entrepreneurs?
The legal profession is not the most dynamic – have patience. You won’t change the world overnight.